Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Pac-12 Journey/The Saturday Slate/The Post That Takes Your Money: Week Eight

Okay, I know I said last week that Athletes in Space would return to its regular weekend programming in time for week eight but it turns out I lied. Because of various obstacles (read "laziness"), I couldn't get around to making Pac-12 Journey articles for all seven Pac-12 games this weekend. Hey, I'm not getting paid for this so shoot me. unless you run a sports writing publication of some kind and you want to hire me. If you want to hire me than I will have you know that I had to call this audible because I was working on numerous other projects and was too overworked to do seven individual, extended game previews. Anyway, here's what to expect tomorrow from the best conference in college football.

Charleston Southern at Colorado (-20)

Colorado gets a welcome break from conference play as the Buffs play the makeup game for the Fresno State game that was cancelled back in week three. A lot has changed for Colorado since then, conference play has exposed numerous holes and an overall lack of talent but more recently Colorado has turned to a new quarterback. True freshman Sefo Liufau burned his redshirt last week and replaced benched Connor Wood last week and played reasonably well. Today he will make his first career start and should get a chance to show what he can do against an FCS defense.

The key match up for Colorado will be its defense against the Buccaneer offense. CSU runs a run based option offense predicated on misdirection. Colorado may not be talented but one thing they do have going for them is discipline and sound fundamentals that will serve them well today. CSU is not your average FCS team, the Buccaneers are undefeated and ranked in the top 25 at the FCS level. As Colorado proved against Central Arkansas, Colorado isn't capable of beating anyone by 20 points, even an FCS team. But, Colorado should have success on the ground and Colorado's smart and sound tacklers should have a big game as well.

The Pick: Colorado 31, Charleston Southern 20

#9 UCLA at #13 Stanford (-4.5)

UCLA looks to become a front runner for the national title while Stanford tries to salvage their BCS hopes. UCLA has a few distinct advantages that they can exploit that will allow them to control the game. For starters, between Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr, the Bruins will always have the best player on the field. Secondly, as we have seen the last two weeks, Stanford struggles in second and third and long situations and particularly has problems creating explosive plays on offense in the second half. Stanford's offensive line is not as good in past years and UCLA has a very good front seven that should be able to stifle Stanford's run game and force Kevin Hogan to make throws.

This game will probably come down to how Hogan plays. UCLA won't score 40 points particularly without production from its running backs which they haven't been getting for a few weeks now. But Hundley is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and he has proven he can make big throws to win games when he doesn't have support from his running backs. Hogan has not proven that I don't think he will start today.

The Pick: UCLA 31, Stanford 24

#20 Washington at Arizona State (-3.5)

We know Arizona State is not a mentally strong team but today we'll find out whether or not Washington has the character to come back. Washington has been emotionally crushed the last two weeks after losing in the last minute to Stanford and then being dominated by Oregon in the biggest college game in Seattle since 2000. Will Washington allow these last two  games to beat them again and will those emotional lows come to define their season?

There shouldn't be any question as to which is the better team. Washington has proven to be stronger on defense especially against the run. Arizona State has been simply horrible against the run this year and that is bad news facing Bishop Sankey, the most productive tailback in America. Washington QB Keith Price has been banged up the last two weeks but he was able to practice without a bandage on his right thumb this week so I expect him to play better than he has the last two weeks. Washington will be able to exploit ASU on the ground and the Huskies defense is good enough that ASU won't be able to keep up.

The Pick: Washington 35, Arizona State 31

USC at Notre Dame (-3)

Was USC's new found confidence and swagger under Ed Orgeron a one time thing or has USC found a new identity that can carry them for the rest of this season? The Trojans will get reinforcements as star WR Marqise Lee returns from an injury and Morgan Breslin the elite pass rusher will try to give it a go as well. Notre Dame does not have a dynamic offense and runs the kind of system that USC wants to see. Because of its poor depth, USC struggles against up tempo teams that can test the Trojans' depth but the Irish do not possess the ability to play consistent up tempo.

USC will probably struggle to run the ball with a poor offensive line facing a very good Notre Dame front seven but USC's once dormant but suddenly productive deep passing game will be the difference in a big win for the Trojans.

The Pick: USC 30, Notre Dame 27

Utah at Arizona (-4)

Utah must avoid the emotional letdown and continue to play well now that people expect them to succeed. It was easy for Utah to look good on both sides of the ball when no one was expecting them to but after beating Stanford, Utah must now deal with expectations for the first time. Arizona may be favored but Utah is the trendy pick because of a great defensive front that can match up with Arizona's dynamic tailback Ka'Deem Carey. Utah also has a good stable of running backs who can run with ease against an Arizona run defense that was exposed by USC last week.

This is also a critical spot for the Wildcats who have lost consecutive games and are currently win-less in conference play. Utah is a better team than most expected but in the preseason this was one of the games Arizona fans circled as one they had to win in order to make a bowl game. Despite losing last week, Arizona got better as the game went on and I think Utah is due to have a bit of a letdown after a full week of everyone telling them how great they are. I'm going to hedge a little bit just in case Utah really has turned the corner by taking the points but another big day from Carey and a bounce back game for the defense will be enough for Arizona to win.

The Pick: Arizona 34, Utah 31

Washington State at #2 Oregon (-39.5)

Oregon's tour of destruction rolls on as the Ducks face the reigning Apple Cup champs after knocking around the Apple Cup runners up last week in Seattle. Don't be fooled here, Oregon is the superior team across the board and Washington State has no chance at all in this game. Oregon should be able to move the ball at will particularly through the air as the best player in college football Marcus Mariota should pick apart a wilting Cougar secondary. Washington State will also have a heck of a time trying to score on Oregon. the Cougars have not been able to stretch the field with long pass plays and can not run the ball, a combination that equates to death against Oregon's defense.

The real game here as it has been all season is Oregon versus the point spread and my what a point spread it is. Oregon is 6-0 against the spread this year with all six spreads being double digits but 39.5 is a ton of points against a reasonably competent conference opponent. Oregon has shown a willingness to go up big and take its foot off the gas to allow for a back door cover (just look at last year's Wazzu-Oregon game). I know I said a few weeks ago that you should start picking Oregon minus anything but I wasn't expecting to see a 40 point line in a conference game that didn't involve Cal or Colorado. I'm sure the Ducks will make me pay for saying this and they will win 63-0 but I think its safe to take the points with such a huge spread.

The Pick: Oregon 56, Washington State 21

Oregon State (-10.5) at California

I really want to hear the reason this spread is only 10.5. Oregon State has the most productive passing attack in college football and Cal has one of the worst defenses, one that is experimenting with wide receivers at cornerback. The Beavers have gotten better and better on defense with each passing week and Cal's offense has been in rapid regression since the Oregon game three weeks ago. Cal can't take care of the ball and has committed the most turnovers in the conference while Oregon State has been ball hawking all season long forcing 15 turnovers in six games. This is a road game but the Beavers traditionally play better on the road and home field advantage does not do much for you when no one shows up to the stadium. This has to be the easiest pick of the Pac-12 season. Lay the points and take the Beavers to win big, you can thank me later.

The Pick: Oregon State 49, California 24

Last Week Against the Spread: 3-3

Last Week Straight Up:4-2

This Season Against the Spread: 31-23

This Season Straight up: 45-9

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